It has been both a pleasure and an agony to read the story and the drama behind the genesis of the European Open Science Cloud. Especially as many of us have been involved it its shaping in some way or the other from the beginning. OpenAIRE has been a key driver in open access in publications since 2005 and, while this is still a core goal, we have gradually shifted efforts to open research data from 2012 onwards.
Embracing Open Science (OS) and therefore EOSC has been a no-brainer. Regardless of whether we agreed at times with the process, the many unknowns along the way, the key people involved, or not involved, we fully recognize that EOSC, both as a concept and as a policy initiative, has succeeded in mobilizing European players on a common goal: OS. Using it as a means to boost collaboration and innovation, it has helped policy makers place data driven science within the wider national agendas for digital transformation. In concrete, measurable terms.
So, kudos to Mr. Burgelman and his team for their relentless efforts to bring this together: overcoming obstacles, ignoring practical challenges during the design phase by abstracting them, with the final goal to get on board the high-level policy makers (top-down) and the infrastructure community (bottom-up) at the same time. Not an easy task to create, shape and sell a vision that different groups, coming from different perspectives can relate to, especially in a European environment which often resists to changes.
Having now reached a safer place, some reflections from the “community” may be of interest and value:
The grandness of the name seemed to do its work and have an effect for the high-level political support, as Brussels seems to mobilize for grandiose visions. It has also done its work for attracting international attention. At the same time, the all-encompassing title has often confused the community on what this really is about. Is it a cloud, or not? Is it about Open Data (OD)? Or only about FAIR? Is it about research data or does it include other research results like open access publications and software? In the end, it seems it is about everything, depending on where someone is coming from. Retrospectively, a more appropriate name would be to substitute Cloud with Commons.
Managing expectations so they don't manage you. Expectations have been set very high from the beginning. The EC set the mood for a “sail or fail” initiative. Often with a haste to make it happen before the community had time to digest and position themselves in the emerging environment. As the narrative shows, it was indeed a sail, but into rough waters at times, needing navigation skills, strength, desire, clear destination. All were there, apart from the latter. And as the destination was not, or is not yet clear to all, expectations varied upon who you talked with. In numerous presentations to non-initiated groups, I tried to respond to questions of the sort “when will be EOSC ready to use”, making it clear that they perceived EOSC as a free-at-the-point of use cloud platform with some value-added perks. In contrast, the familiar crowd (infrastructures) has kept expectations low, entering EOSC with eyes wide open and a fair share of scepticism, as in many top-down initiatives. Why? Because infrastructure providers know that commitment and continuous funding is of key importance to make such a grand initiative work.
The decision to build on existing infrastructures and investments has correctly been there from the beginning. Before EOSC appeared on the scene, many pan-European research and e-Infrastructures, OpenAIRE one of them, had already worked with this model: building on national infrastructure and investments; federating research results, resources; building and operating human networks who are key in aligning policies and propagating practices. All in a bottom-up manner. Trying to meet the top-down in rather unknown waters, often produced more confusion in the community.
Balancing different views of FAIRness and openness have been there in the OpenAIRE community from the beginning. The discussion on openness has been diluted along the way. FAIR has been proven to be an excellent marketing tool, easily digestible as a concept, but hard and costly to implement in its entirety for the whole data lifecycle. So most often the discussion stays in the context of metadata. Even if we anticipate FAIR to pay in the long term, open research data with an acceptable quality will bring quicker uptake and return of investment (RoI). So it is important that as a starting point EOSC redoubles Europe's efforts to make more and better quality data available for public research at no cost.
Labelling EOSC as the “Web of FAIR research data” limits its long-term vision as a facilitator for harnessing European data intensive research. It may be sufficient for the starting years, where we need to bring the community together under common understanding and simple rules. But data aren't a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Its real value comes with actionable delivery. Therefore, we cannot afford to have data and analytics worlds collide. EOSC needs to turn this collision into a constructive convergence, incorporate both data and analytics tools and capabilities into its stack. Fast forwarding into the (near) future, EOSC should facilitate the Data as a service (DaaS) paradigm: having data in the forefront, to implement a data management strategy that uses the cloud to deliver data storage, integration, processing, and/or analytics services via a network connection.
The 6-year drama has just been the beginning of the EOSC journey. The community has, or is in the process of, fully embraced it. EOSC has put Europe in the forefront of OS globally and all eyes are on us. The work on the policy has provided this boost, and now it is in our hands to make it happen. And, we cannot afford not to.